C. Christopher Smith is co-author of the recent book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, and is also editor of The Englewood Review of Books.
Posts By This Author
THE GLORY OF God is humanity fully alive, to paraphrase St. Irenaeus.
If Irenaeus is correct and Christian discipleship is centered on following Jesus toward a life that is more compassionate and more alive, then Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, is perhaps the most important Christian book of 2015. Granted, Turkle steers clear of the language of faith, but in calling us to become more fully human, she has penned a profoundly religious book that Christians need to read and reflect upon.
Western culture has long been losing the capacity for conversation. Embodied in the current partisan climate of Washington that competes at all costs, rather than converse and collaborate, this aversion to dialogue is symptomatic of cultural changes that have unfolded over the last 500 years. From Enlightenment philosophy to industrialization to automobility, these cultural shifts have disintegrated communities and diminished our capacity for open conversation. More recently, Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort highlighted how the increasing homogeneity of our relational networks erodes our capacity to converse with those who differ from us.
Turkle focuses primarily on an even more recent concern, the ubiquitous tyranny of the smartphone. Although not a Luddite who would advocate abolishing phones, Turkle fiercely describes the ways our phones inhibit our capacity for connection, conversation, and empathy. “We are being silenced by our technologies,” she maintains. With joint Harvard doctorates in sociology and psychology, Turkle backs her claims with a vast body of research. Even a silenced phone sitting on the table during conversation, she notes, changes the dynamics of what we discuss and how.
Face-to-face conversation, Turkle argues, is the most basic human activity. In conversation, we learn to listen and to be empathetic. Our mobile devices also impede our capacity for solitude, a skill that is vital to our development from childhood onward. Turkle emphasizes that it is in solitude that our minds are formed and we develop a distinctive voice. In exercising this voice in private conversations with family, friends, and lovers, and in public conversations, it is refined and our capacity for solitude and self-reflection is further enhanced, drawing us ever-deeper in this virtuous cycle.
Working for the Economic Flourishing of our Places
Over the last quarter century, groups like CCDA have challenged churches to be involved in community development, but there has been significantly less conversation about churches entering into the work of economic development. To do economic development well requires cultivating a wide range of collaborations – with government, corporations large and small, funders, non-profits, etc. – which is not only a slow, complicated, and intense work, but one that might raise theological red flags from many churches. I would challenge churches that might be uneasy about these sorts of collaborations to consider the image of the church in Ephesians 3, bearing witness of God’s wisdom to the powers and authorities. How better to bear witness than in relationships that focus on the health and flourishing of our neighborhoods?
None Shall Make Them Afraid: 5 Virtues of Responsible News Consumption
It was difficult to be a Hoosier last week, particularly as one caught in the crossfire between Indiana’s narrow-minded lawmakers on the Right and the rage of the political Left. The battle cry “Boycott Indiana!” reverberated through social media channels even though many Hoosiers vehemently oppose the discriminatory new RFRA law. My very own neighborhood mourned one of the casualties of this battle: a major economic development that was canceled when the funders heard about RFRA.
It was amidst this firestorm that I read Gareth Higgins’ superb essay “A Newsfeed of Fear” (Sojourners, May 2015). Given my present frame of mind, Higgins didn’t have to twist my arm to convince me that fear was a prevalent factor in the version of reality that we are fed through media channels.
Higgins’ essay reminded me of the prophetic hope of the Israelite people that is repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible: “None shall make them afraid.” If God’s people are indeed shaped by a perfect love that casts out fear, how then, I wondered, do we begin embodying an alternative to the newsfeed of fear in the way that we read, tell, and embody stories?
Higgins suggests that the answer to this question involves practicing the virtues of context, compassion, attention to detail, and pause. Space didn’t allow Higgins to elaborate on these virtues, so I would like to suggest my own interpretation and offer an additional fifth: gratitude.
Making Jesus a Patriot
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin Kruse
Conquering A Great Divide
This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith. Convergent Books.
Slow Down and Know That I Am God
Why it's time for a conversation about Slow Church.